U.S. travelers to Germany tend to spend the majority of their time in the country’s larger and well-known cities including Berlin, Dresden, Cologne, Heidelberg, and, especially, Munich, an American favorite, and for good reason. The remainder of their time is devoted to smaller touristy towns made popular by guidebooks and tours. This latter group includes Garmish, Trier, Passau, Bamberg, Rothenburg, and Regensburg, (Germany is home to many bergs and burgs) These are all great destinations that offer museums, cathedrals, upscale restaurants, theaters, and uncountable historic buildings, cultural events, and plenty of beer and wurst. Still, they often seem to lack much of the real personality of Germany.
To understand, imagine foreign visitors to America who experience only New York City, San Francisco, Orlando, and Washington, D.C. These travelers take in our museums, fancy restaurants, theaters, theme parks, historic buildings, and cultural events, but miss the heartland of America; its small towns whose residents offer an entirely different side of our culture.
A recent return to Germany included a stay in a small town we discovered during an earlier trip. The village of about 2,500 citizens on the Rhine River is home to four small restaurants, no hotels, and a number of small shops (including, of course, a wonderful bakery) along what is essentially a pedestrian street. There are no traffic lights and virtually no tourists. What few tourists we encountered were German. Few residents, including the kind woman in whose guest house we stayed, speak English. The village is not geared toward tourism, the major factor that caused to return.
The Rhine River, bordered with towns both big and small along its meandering path north, serves as the highway for some of the most popular river cruises in Europe. It is also a major thoroughfare for specialized barges loaded with coal, petroleum, grain, and containers. A trip along the Rhine, whether via boat, train, or rented vehicle is one of the most scenic and popular journeys in all of Europe.
Like in the U.S., visiting small German towns tends to be less expensive than staying in one of the larger cities. The rate at our guesthouse was 22 euros per person (1 euro = $1.30) including a typical German breakfast consisting of a soft boiled egg, one slice of cheese, two slices of meat, two slices of German dark bread, a hard roll, and a large pot of coffee. Our guesthouse had six guest rooms. One bathroom with a shower serviced three guest rooms on the first floor. A bathroom and separate shower were available for three second-floor guest rooms. It appeared that four rooms, including our own, were occupied during our two-night stay. There was never a problem in gaining access to the bathroom.
A major reason for our return visit was an opportunity to dine at the small German restaurant a ten-minute walk from our guesthouse. The cost of two hearty meals, two beers, one glass of wine, and the enjoyment of watching a multitude of local characters who came solely for the beer, was $22 euros. Although only our waiter spoke English, we seemed to make friends with several jolly fellows who appeared to be regular customers. Our assumption is based on the fact that they were standing at the bar when we arrived and remained when we departed. Plus, they seemed to be personal friends with all of the other customers. The restaurant was everything we remembered from our earlier trip. We have been to numerous European cathedrals, museums, and restaurants, but cannot remember a more enjoyable evening.
Our return to the village does not mean we would desire a stay for an entire summer. The nearest rail center was a 40-minute train ride away. Thus, traveling to explore other locations in Germany would be cumbersome and time consuming compared to staying near the main rail station in a big city. Still, several days in a small German village offers a relaxing stay with good food, friendly people, and an atmosphere that is missing in the big tourist centers.